After a mediocre fourth season in the NFL, Derek Carr is seen by many as a middle-of-the-pack starting quarterback. After all, he has an overall record of 28-34, no playoff wins, and averages a mediocre 6.5 yards per passing attempt in his career. Carr has yet to reach the 4,000-yard passing mark and averages less than 100 rushing yards per season, so it is not as if he has necessarily been a fantasy football stud either. However, there are quite a few reasons to believe in Carr, even outside of their splashy $100 million acquisition of coach John Gruden. In fact, Carr could be the 2018 NFL MVP and is set to, at the very least, prove to everyone that he is far better than a middle-tier starting QB.
It was Christmas Eve of 2016 and the Oakland Raiders were up 33-14 on the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts. They were on their way to their 12th win and likely the No. 2 seed in the AFC with one week left in the regular season. The 25-year-old Carr had 28 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions on the season and was getting MVP buzz. Many of you know the chain of events that followed. Carr’s fibula was broken in the 4th quarter against Indianapolis, and despite the fact the Raiders won the game, they lost their final game of the season, dropping down to a wild card. The Raiders went on to lose to the Houston Texas in the first round of the playoffs without Carr.
With high expectations in 2017, the Raiders were just mediocre at best, going 6-10 on the season. Carr appeared to take a step back, putting up just 22 touchdowns and under 3500 passing yards in 15 games. However, Carr’s numbers didn’t tell the whole story. He suffered a transverse process fracture in early November, which affected his play, and he also did not have much help around him outside of the offensive line. Carr’s receiving core was underwhelming, especially with wide receiver Amari Cooper having a disappointing season in 2017 after looking like a potential star his first two years.
— PFF OAK Raiders (@PFF_Raiders) July 10, 2018
Not to mention, the Raiders defense was terrible all year, ranking 26th in passing yards allowed and 29th in DVOA. It was not much better the previous season, but at least the Raiders defense had the second most turnovers recovered in 2016.
This season, however, Carr seems to have a lot going in his favor. He should be much healthier, is entering his 5th season, and has a better supporting cast than in years past. The Raiders acquired wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson earlier this offseason, to go along with tight end Jared Cook, Amari Cooper, and a strong offensive line. The Raiders will also have a 3rd place schedule, which could help them reach a high enough win total for Carr to get serious MVP consideration.
And of course, the Raiders will be led by coach John Gruden, who, despite his blown up contract and ridiculous beliefs about analytics, can be a positive for the 27-year-old quarterback. Gruden is an offensive-minded coach and seems to be working well with Carr so far in the early going.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) June 15, 2018
The Raiders will also feature a new offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, who worked with Gruden in Tampa Bay in 2008. You can expect the Raiders to call plays with a tight end/back out of the backfield combination, which should lead to easy completions for Carr. Last season, Carr tended to sit back and waited for plays to develop. But with a stronger receiving core and new offensive coaches, Carr will likely get the ball out of his hands quickly more often.
When healthy, Carr is one of the most well-rounded quarterbacks in the NFL. Before the 2017 season, Carr was considered by many NFL scouts as the top player they would take if they could choose any athlete in the league for the next decade. Carr has consistently been careful with the football, with a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 103 to 44, and he truly has very few holes in his game. Although Carr does not take off and run very often, he has the ability to rush for 350-400 yards if he wants to, but he hasn’t in large part due to the added health risk.
Carr appears to have that IT factor that so many franchise quarterbacks lack. He has a certain optimism about him that is infectious. In 2016, he led the Raiders to an unbelievable total of 7 comeback wins in the 4th quarter, the second most since it became a statistic in 1960. He had the most 4th quarter comeback wins in 2015 as well.
The biggest obstacle to Carr’s 2018 MVP candidacy is the Raiders defense, especially with the uncertainty around Khalil Mack, but it is not as if the Raiders defense could be that much worse than it was in 2016 when Carr still managed to be a part of the MVP conversation. It could also be a bit of an awkward year in Oakland with the elephant in the room of the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, but ultimately the Raiders will improve significantly and Carr will be at the forefront.